For a moment, I was home.

Well, I wasn't actually in the house my father and I lived in, but the space through which I tumbled still felt achingly familiar and nostalgic. I didn't know how I'd gotten here, or where, exactly, 'here' was, but even so, part of me didn't want to leave. Kind of like how Aria described being inside me felt, now that I thought about it.

All too soon though, I found myself ejected, tumbling to a stop facedown on the ground. A detached portion of my mind idly noted that, were I a normal person, I would likely have ended up quite bruised, but as usual I'd barely noticed it.

It took a moment for the rest of my mind to catch up with what had just happened, but once it had I quickly pushed myself to my feet and patted myself down as I looked around. I was in what seemed to be a dissipating dust cloud, which blocked my view of my surroundings, but hopefully did the same to any potential assailants trying to see me. Speaking of which, I could hear a sizeable number of people talking beyond the dust in a language I couldn't understand. I tensed, then turned to face the speakers.

As I was doing so, my self-examination revealed that I was mostly in costume, except for some reason I still had my face attached. My good eyes were in, but they weren't Aria's eyes, and my mouth was my own. Not so great if I was about to get attacked, but I could work with it.

I unclipped one of my folding knives from my belt but didn't open it yet. As the dust continued to clear, I murmured, "Aria, Melody, Rest? Are you there?"

A groan from within me made me smile in relief, and my smile widened when Aria spoke. "I… what happened? I feel weird…"

My smile faded at her words. "Are you alright? I mean, you don't sound like you are, but…"

"Taylor! Um, I . . . I don't know how to describe this, but it seems to be going away pretty quickly," she replied.

"Okay. Um. We might be in for a fight, here, so will you be able to help me, like, right now?"

Melody spoke up before Aria could reply. "If what she is feeling is anything like what I am feeling, I would have to say no." I winced slightly at how under-the-weather she sounded, as strange as it was to apply the phrase to any of my friends.

"Rest?" I asked quietly. "How're you doing?" The only reply I got was an indecipherable mess of noise, which at once made me feel relief that she was still with me, and concern for her health.

A drop in the volume of people talking outside the dust cloud drew my attention outward, and I found the cloud to be almost gone. I could see people, now, and they saw me, if their staring was any indication. The majority of the people I could see were grouped a good few dozen feet away, but two were a good bit closer. One was an older, balding man in a robe carrying some kind of staff like a wizard from a fantasy novel, while the other…

Pink was the word that first came to mind. Her hair was an undeniably bright pink, and judging from the lack of visibly different roots, she'd probably dyed it quite recently.

I blinked in disbelief for a moment before taking in the rest of her. She was almost certainly rather young, judging from her height and build, she wore a cape of sorts that was secured at the collar by a brooch inscribed with a pentagram, and in one hand she held what could only be called a wand. Her face was a picture of disbelief as she stared at me, and I met her gaze, wondering if I'd somehow been transported into the midst of a group of LARPers.

The previously silent crowd in the background soon started shouting what, despite the language barrier, were obviously insults. The expression of the girl before me quickly twisted into a furious scowl, and she shouted something back at them to little effect. The man said something to her, and she snapped back at him before starting to approach me, only for her eyebrow to start twitching when I started backing away in response.

"Okay, um, look. I don't know what any of you are saying," I said nervously, holding my hands up in front of me. The man's eyes quickly focused on the still-folded knife in my hand, and he tensed subtly. "I'm just, ah, gonna go, okay?" My retreat got a little faster, and I glanced around for an escape route.

The pink-haired girl started to run towards me, shouting something at my while she tried to catch up with me. "What the hell do you want with me?" I shouted as I turned to flat out run away.

Or rather, I tried, only to stumble to my knees as the ground turned to watery mud, then hardened around my legs, effectively trapping everything below mid-thigh. "Uh, girls?" I said, feeling rather freaked out. "I could really use your help right now."

I watched the pink girl come around in front of me, flushed and breathing heavily. The man, who must have been in much better shape than her, came to stand by her side not long after. He gave me a considering look before pointing his staff at me and saying a few words. My eyes widened as I realized that he was likely the parahuman who had trapped me, and I reflexively raised my arms in front of my face in preparation for whatever he was about to do.

"-rstand me now?"

I carefully opened an eye and glanced around my arms to see him once again resting his staff on the ground. "I, I'm sorry, what?"

The man smiled. "Oh, good, it worked." Turning to the pink-haired girl, he gestured to me and said, "Now, Miss Vallière, complete the ritual, if you would."

"Wait, what ritual?" I asked, a note of panic in my voice as she nodded and started to approach me once again. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

"The ritual to make you my familiar, commoner," the girl said. Stopping within arm's reach of me, she closed her eyes, murmured something I couldn't quite make out, then started to lean in towards me.

No. Fuck this.

With a click, my knife unfolded, and I saw a look of alarm on the man's face as I slashed at this girl. She'd evidently heard my knife opening, as her eyes started to open, but it was too late for her to even flinch away in time.

I, of course, had no practice using a knife as an actual weapon, so it wasn't too great of a surprise when the only damage I managed to do was cut her shirt a bit before the blade bounced off of her brooch. In fact, I felt a bit of relief that I hadn't actually injured her. Even so, she still flinched away, giving me a little room to work with. I was still stuck in the ground, of course, so I quickly pressed the blade against my throat. "Girls!"

Before I could open a cut for Aria, the man's staff flashed out, knocking the blade from my hand. He and the girl were looking at me with near identical expressions of horror. A detached part of me noted that the laughter and jeering from the crowd behind me had gone silent.

"... Why?" The pink girl's voice was thick with horror, with a touch of despondency. "Is, is the idea of being my familiar that awful to you?" She covers her mouth with her hands, tears starting to form in her eyes.

"You tell me," I spat with a surprising amount of venom in my voice. "I don't even know what you mean by 'familiar'. All I know is that I'm in a strange place, trapped in the ground, and you want to do something weird to me!"

Confusion joins the horror on their faces. "But then, why were you trying to kill yourself?" the man asked.

Now it was my turn to be confused. "But I wasn't…" My fingers traced my throat and suddenly realization dawned. "Oh. Um." I had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, this is awkward."

The two glanced at one another, and the girl sighed. "Of course. The one time I succeed in summoning something, it's a commoner, and a crazy one at that."

"Hey, I can hear you, you know, " I said in a vaguely offended tone. "Now, would it be too much to ask for some help getting out of this mess?" I gestured at my trapped legs.

They glance at one another again, and my irritation grows a tad. Finally, the man looked at me and said, "Miss, the Springtime Summoning Ritual is sacred. The being summoned by a mage is destined to be that mage's familiar. It-"

"So, what," I interrupted scathingly, "just because I appeared, you're going to force me, against my will, to be this girl's 'familiar', whatever that means? And, seriously, mages? Magic doesn't exist."

The girl gave me an incredulous and angry glare. "Now see here!" she started, only to stop when the man placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Calm, Miss Vallière." Fixing his gaze on me, he said, "Claims that magic isn't real aside, our customs require that whatever is summoned by the ritual become the summoner's familiar. Now, I don't like the thought of forcing you, so is there anything we could give you or do for you that would make you more cooperative?"

I held his gaze for a few moments before looking down. "I just want to go home…"

I could almost hear him frown as he said, "I don't know if there is any way to reverse the ritual, unfortunately. That said-"

"Oh, by the Founder!" the girl interrupted, startling me into looking up again. She crossed her arms. "Look, if you agree to become my familiar, I promise on my honor as a noble that I shall do everything in my power to find a way to send you home." Looking to the side, she muttered, "Maybe then I'll be able to summon a better familiar…"

I eyed her warily. She seemed quite sincere in her promise, to my ears, at least, but even so… "What does becoming a familiar even entail?"

"As my familiar, you will be my companion and guardian. I'll be able to see through your eyes, and you'll gather reagents for me," she recited.

Frowning, I said, "Well, that doesn't seem that bad." I paused. "Honestly, I almost expected you to say I'd be your mind-controlled slave or something."

The girl made a face at that. "What? No!" She took a breath. "Now, the ritual requires that I kiss you. Are you okay with that?"

I only had to think about it for a moment before nodding. I mean, it's not like I was saving my first kiss for anyone like someone out of a cliche and cringe-inducing novel. "I guess that would be fine."

"Okay." The girl drew in a steadying breath before saying, "My name is Louise Françoise Le Blanc de la Vallière. Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers, bless this humble being, and make her my familiar." And with that, she leaned down to give me a peck on the lips.

For a moment I just sat there, unimpressed. "Well, that wasn't so ba-"